Yesterday was my last day teaching for the semester. Next week is finals followed by a week of relaxing in Phayakkaphum Phisai and then off to travel southeast Asia for 9 weeks. This post is going to be dedicated to my P1 MEP class. The students that taught “Teacher Tracy” how to be a teacher. My 39 monkeys that shaped me into the teacher I always dreamt of being. My 39 monkeys that pushed me to my limits and then gave me big hugs at the end of the day.
Back in America I had plenty of experience working with kids. I was a preschool teacher, a camp director for 5 years, a 9th grade religious school teacher, I taught adults with autism social skills and I was a coordinator for youth and family education at an elementary school for 4 years. I was 32 years old and had 10 years professionally working with children. Although I did not have any formal classroom experience I was still probably more prepared than most people entering the Teach in Thailand program. I was confident I was going to be a great teacher here, almost verging on the edge of cockiness.
But then my first day came and I was hit like a ton of bricks….
Everything I knew about working with children in America was not going to work with these kiddos! I was given a class of 39 first graders, none of who spoke English, and was told to teach them math, science, English and health. I realized quickly with these kiddos that me talking to them was not going to cut it. The more I talked the more blank stares I received and the naughtier my kids started behaving. Then on Thanksgiving, about 4 weeks into the semester, I showed a short “Charlie Brown” movie and I heard the teacher portrayed in the movie “Wah wah wah wah wah.” That was me to the kids. They didn’t understand a word I was saying. I was nothing more than a sound to them.
It was on that day that I realized it was me who had to change if I wanted them to learn anything this semester, not them. I am the teacher and I had to take change quickly or the semester would have been a waste. I started spending my weekends creating PowerPoint presentations on everything filled with visuals, I would search through youtube archives for fun and simple songs, I broke down small concepts into even smaller ones and realized it was ok if it took my students one or two weeks to learn them, I realized that mastery was more important than amount of information taught, I learned how to empathize with my students, I danced, I laughed, I sang and I loved.
As the semester went on things began to fall into place. I began to truly fall in love with teaching and my students. I put in far more than 40 hours a week because I cared. I cared so much for these students and wanted so much for them to succeed. I could empathize with my students, but I could not relate to the experience they were going through. Imagine being 6 & 7 years old and being taught the foundations of education (math, science, English and health) in a language completely foreign to you. Imagine being sick in class and trying to explain what is wrong to a teacher that speaks a different language and stares at you blankly. Imagine if another student is teasing you and you try to tell your teacher and she just nods but offers no solutions. So, what did I do? I spent my nights watching “Learn Thai” videos on YouTube so I could speak a little to my students in their own language and begin to understand their needs or interject a few Thai words into my lessons to help them achieve a better understanding. I changed up the health curriculum and taught my students English words for health ailments so they could communicate to me when they had a headache, stomachache, sore throat, earache, toothache and various other illnesses. I taught them feelings words so when asked “How are you?” I didn’t get the robot response of “I am fine thank you and you.” My students learned to tell me if they were happy, sad, angry, hungry, thirsty, tired, hot, etc. I met my students at their level and dropped the expectation of them coming up to mine. By achieving an understanding with my students and changing my ways I was able to teach them complex concepts in math, science, health and English. My students now know the properties of materials, how to carry numbers and perform multiple digit addition and subtraction problems, the 5 senses, healthy vs unhealthy foods, heavy and light, more and less and the list goes on. I am so proud of my students and all they accomplished this semester.
I learned to understand my students and they learned to understand me. We formed a very special connection that I will never have with any other class. This was my first class. This was the class that taught me how to be a teacher. This was the class that made me realize there is no other job in the world more suited for me than teaching. Although there were days when they all decided to push my buttons and test my patience I loved this group of kids and forever hold them close to my heart. I owe any future successes in teaching to P1/1 at Anuban Iam Sook in Palan, Phayakkaphum Phisai, Maha Sarakahm.